Basics

The girls are 10 and 13 now and according to reality television cooking shows they ought to be making things like Pork Belly with Shitake Mushroom Foam and Seaweed Compote so I reckon they’re ready to learn The Basics.  I have a lime green notebook that I started jotting recipes in when I was still living at home and watching daytime television between lectures at university and it’s full of simple, quick recipes that I thought I’d be able to manage when I was finally in my own place.  The first recipe is Ray Martin’s Caesar Salad, so that dates it for those of you who remember when Our Ray was on daytime.

Anyway, there are a bunch of recipes in there that I’ve never made but there are a few that keep popping up on the weekly menu and those ones I hardly even need to check the list of ingredients anymore.  One of them is Beef and Red Wine Casserole, and as I made it this morning with Madeleine’s help, I told her that this was something she could cook for herself when she’s all alone and living on campus at Cambridge and it’s grey and miserable outside and she wants to make something to remind her of home.  I want my kids to travel the world and study overseas and do all those things that I didn’t do when I was that age but I also want them to have the occasional intense pang of homesickness wherein they remember all the wonderful things about growing up as my daughter and conveniently forget all those times I made their lives a living hell.

This recipe can be cooked on the stovetop, or in the oven, or in a slow cooker.  On a stovetop make sure you stir occasionally and keep the liquid levels up so it doesn’t stick to the bottom.  In the oven, put a big square piece of baking paper over the top of the pot before placing the lid on top, it just saves in the washing up afterwards (the lid stays clean).  For the slow cooker, cook the onions, garlic, bacon and meat in a frying pan before transferring to the slow cooker with the other ingredients then cook on high for a couple of hours or on low for four.It’s easy to increase the number of serving sizes; just add more of everything and maintain the amount of liquid for it all to bubble away in.

BEEF & RED WINE CASSEROLE (4-6 serves)

2 Tbsp olive oil

4 bacon rashers, chopped

2 medium onions, chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 kg beef (chuck steak), cut into 3cm cubes

2 Tbsp plain flour

1 cup red wine

1 1/2 cups beef stock

2 tins crushed tomatoes (800g)

3 large carrots, peeled, cut into large chunks (fat carrots are better than skinny ones)

mushrooms – whole small ones or large ones cut into chunks.  A couple of handfuls’ worth.

half a bunch of continental (Italian, flat-leaf) parsley, finely chopped.

Preheat oven to 160 C.

Prepare all the ingredients so they’re ready to go.  With the beef, it’s a really good idea to blot excess moisture/blood from the cubes using some paper towel before tossing them about in a large plastic bag with the flour to coat (may need to do that in a couple of batches).

Heat the casserole pot over medium heat and pour in half the oil.  When it’s hot, add the bacon and stir for three minutes.  Then add the onion and garlic and cook until soft and translucent, between 5-10 minutes.  Don’t let it burn, but make sure it’s well cooked.

Remove this mixture from the pot and set aside.  Add the rest of the olive oil and when it’s hot add enough pieces of the beef to cover the base of the pot, leaving space between each piece.  This might take three or four batches, it’s important not to let the pot get crowded or it won’t heat up enough to sear the meat.  There should be enough heat in the pot to hear the beef sizzling but not so hot you risk burning it.  Turn the pieces over as they become brown, until you’ve browned it well all over.  Do the same for subsequent batches, putting them aside with the onions and bacon when they’re done.

There will be bits and pieces of bacon and onion stuck to the bottom of the pot and you can get these off by deglazing.  Pour the wine into the pot, letting it bubble up, then take a wooden spoon with a straight edge and scrape the bottom of the pot to lift all the bits.  Keep scraping until all the bits are up – great for flavour, and good for cleaning the pot.  When you’ve got as much as you can off, return the beef, onions and bacon mix to the pot.  Add the stock, tinned tomatoes and carrots (I usually throw in a bay leaf or two as well).  Stir and allow to come to the boil over med-high heat.

Put the lid on and place in the oven for two hours or until the beef is nice and tender. With half an hour to go, make some mashed potatoes.

Just before dishing up, add the parsley, reserving a little as a garnish.  Serve with lots of mashed potato and some crusty bread to soak up all the yummy gravy.

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